Kruger’s Sunset Dam is a hot spot for intriguing wildlife interactions and once-in-a-lifetime sightings. Getting there early can be key, as this sequence of a large crocodile tucking into breakfast goes to show.

Having left the Kruger National Park’s Lower Sabie Rest Camp at dawn, Wild Card members Brian Stratton and Dorea du Plessis arrived at an eerily quiet Sunset Dam. “There were no other vehicles around and, surprisingly, little sign of any living creatures – other than some red-billed buffalo weavers flitting around their nests in a distant tree,” says Brian.

But the duo didn’t have to wait long for a splash of water to pierce the silence. As if by arrangement, a three-metre-long Nile crocodile surfaced a short distance away. “It slowly cruised straight towards where we were parked and gradually slid onto the bank, leaving just its tail in the water. In its mouth it held a sizable fish, which we took to be a barbel.”

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With the fish gripped by its tail at first, the crocodile tried to get its meal into a suitable position to swallow. It proceeded to toss the barbel, almost half a metre in length, into the air as it vigorously snapped its jaws open and closed.

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“After several rather noisy side-to-side and up-and-down tosses of the head, the fish was finally successfully grabbed lengthwise. The deep quiet seemed to amplify the sound of the croc’s manoeuvres. Wasting no time, the reptile swallowed the early morning meal in a single gulp.”

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Post breakfast

“The crocodile sidled past us, with what looked like a satisfied grin on its bloodied face, before sliding back into the water and disappearing from sight. Sunset Dam was left with the same empty stillness that we’d experienced just minutes earlier. The sighting was a first for us; we wish others could have been present to share in our exhilaration. Although the episode lasted a mere five minutes, we felt very privileged to have witnessed the event.”

Barbel it is!

Reptile boffin Johan Marais has written over 40 scientific papers on crocodiles and served on the Crocodile Specialist Group of IUCN for 15 years. According to Johan, the sighting might not be so common, but barbel is certainly part of a crocodile’s diet in the Kruger Park.

“Crocodiles, like all reptiles, are opportunistic feeders and can go for weeks without food. When there’s an abundance of food, they may really stuff themselves. A crocodile of this size, a female Nile crocodile, can probably eat about half a dozen large barbel and, if it is warm enough, digest them in two to four days before feeding again. Great pictures!”